A hundred and ninety-one years ago, on this exact day on 19 July 1827, India’s first freedom fighter was born. He was the same person, who evoked resentment on a national level, by leading Indians against the British in what was our First War of Independence.
Born in Nagwa district, Uttar Pradesh, Mangal Pandey’s childhood could be described as mediocre at best, mainly because his Brahmin family was far from affluent- contrary to popular perception of ‘Brahminism’ in today’s discourse.
As a result of his socioeconomic status, he was compelled to join the British East India Company at the age of 22 as a sepoy in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry (BNI).
By that point, it must be remembered that the British had subjugated Indians: farmers lost their land to taxes, artisans were left poverty-stricken after the emergence of British factories, commoner were left to starve. The British hegemony over Indians had become a reality by then. And so, there was an inherent danger in the people of India.
Having reluctantly served the British for some years, Mangal Pandey was left very upset with the arrival of a new type of bullet cartridge used in the Enfield P-53 rifle. The cause for his anger was driven by the ongoing word that the cartridge was greased with animal fat and especially those of pig and cow, which neither Hindus nor Muslims consumed.
For the cover to be removed, the cartridges had to be removed and it was abhorred by both the Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the army. The general word about the British intentionally doing it, evoked even more anger in Pandey. What peaked the discontent was that the Commandant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry was a well known Christian preacher, who would often put down other faiths in the attempt to convert people of those religions. This added to the larger question regarding the British’s attempts to undermine the traditional Indian society.
While many did tell him that a gradual attack on the British after consolidation would make sense, Pandey felt the need to act immediately. On the 29th of March 1857, he led the fight against the British by doing his best to motivate every person involved. He went on to dominate one officer after another- right from Hughson to Baugh.
“It is for our religion. From biting these (greased) cartridges we will lose our religion”, he told the soldiers.
It is worth noting that despite the known oppression that took place, the compulsion to bite something that (he believed) contained beef, was what triggered his anger. That fact on its own would imply that he placed his Hindu belief system on the highest pedestal, and that is what translated to become the love for his country.
However, before the nation could display its appreciation for the cause, he was betrayed by a compatriot named Shaikh Paltu, who posed himself to be on the same side as Pandey since they lay on the same battalion. Mistaking Paltu’s identity, Pandey had let him get closer, only to find himself being pulled from the back.
Being flanked by Paltu was a challenge for Pandey because even though he was able to drive him away, he was left very tired when faced with a fresh battalion of soldiers, by noon. As a result of there being no room to fight, Pandey felt the need to shoot himself in the chest.
He soon found himself in the military hospital and was killed by the British 10 days before his hanging was sentenced by the military court. Thus, ended the life of whom we call ‘Amar Shaheed Mangal Pandey’.
The word about the rebellion spread everywhere and inspired millions to fight against the British- ranging across different places including Agra, Ambala, Meerut, Delhi. It was the precise uniting factor India had needed in motivation for independence. Many patriots were ignited by Pandey’s sacrifice and love for his country, which was triggered by the regard for his Hindu Dharma and went on to strive for the freedom of their countrymen.
On this Jayanti of his, let us remember the phenomenal values of selflessness and patriotism that Mangal Pandey epitomised.